Posted by: Shaun | June 4, 2008

The nomination heard round the world

Today the Washington Post ran a story covering the widespread enthusiasm for the candidacy of Barack Obama on the part of people throughout the world.  Kenyan’s, especially, seem to be pleased that one of their own (Obama’s father was Kenyan) may sit in the Oval Office next January.  The general consensus seems to be that an Obama presidency would be one in which America had more respect for other countries and peoples throughout the word.  Quoth one citizen of India:

“This is close to a miracle. I was certain that some things will not happen in my lifetime,” said Sunila Patel, 62, a widow encountered on the streets of New Delhi. “A black president of the U.S. will mean that there will be more American tolerance for people around the world who are different.”

A President Obama would almost certainly chart a substantially different course in foreign policy than his predecessor (eg. no more well thought-out schemes to conquer other nations that are perceived to be giving America the stink eye).  However, I wonder if some of this jubilation is premature.

There have certainly been racist presidents throughout American history as evidenced by Woodrow Wilson’s determination to give ignorant Latins a Princetonian education in “elect[ing] good men.”  But the majority of U.S. foreign policy maneuvers the world has found so noisome over the last two decades have largely derived from a sense of American national interest, whether properly construed or not, rather than any racial or ethnic antipathy.  Even the nation’s first black president idly watch Rawandan Tutsis put to the slaughter, backed Iraqi sanctions that starved thousands of innocents, and exacted vengeance on Sudanese pharmaceutical manufacturers for unrelated acts of terrorism.

What will the world think when a hypothetical President Obama is confronted with a tough foreign policy choice and he acts in the interests of the United States?  Would his solidarity with the peoples of the world stop him from striking Iran if he was told it was on the verge of completing a deliverable nuclear weapon?  Moreover, even if Obama sought to endear himself to the foreign public by, for instance, doubling U.S. development aid or signing on to the International Criminal Court, there is no guarantee that such measures would make it through a Congress beholden to the far more parochial views of the American public.

I am an Obama supporter, to be sure.  I believe he is this country’s best option for both foreign and domestic policy, and I think he has what it takes to be a great executive.  But I think a dose of realism is in order before global expectations get out of hand.  Barack is no George W. Bush, but he will govern for the people of the United States, not the world.

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